February 4, 2010 at 10:07 am

Travels with Charlie

Mongo says Kilpatrick's legacy pushes him to D.C.

Hard-charging adviser wants to leave 'minor leagues'

Political consultant Adolph Mongo at the Roma Cafe in Eastern Market last month: "Whether you like it or not, I will be the face of Detroit in Washington." (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit -- Adolph Mongo -- the hard-charging, hard-drinking political consultant -- was taking lunch the other afternoon at Roma Cafe, the power players' joint in the Eastern Market.

Mongo was having his usual meal: double vodka on the rocks and a tall glass of water. Judge David Groner walked past the bar and waved. Ted Gatzaros, the casino hotelier, stopped to whisper in his ear.

Above the right shoulder of Mongo's Italian suit were televised images of a haggard-looking Sam Riddle, another noted Detroit political consultant, shambling into federal court for yet another day of his corruption trial.

"Dumb a--," Mongo sneered into his drink. "He ain't the reason. Make sure you put that in your story. Riddle and these other clowns ain't the reason I'm moving my office to D.C."

After 20 years in the consulting game, Mongo, 55, has closed his office, also in the Eastern Market, and is taking his hatchet to Capitol Hill.

He is not leaving because the feds have been laying more wire in Detroit than a cable guy, he said. The fact is the FBI has already fingered through Mongo's bank accounts because of his work for disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Rather, Mongo insisted he is leaving because of Kilpatrick's legacy: a shattered black political machine that had fed Mongo and other all-stars of Detroit political life for years. Left in Kilpatrick's wreckage, he says, is a hodgepodge of crude nickel-and-dime politicians who don't pay their bills.

"He left this city in shambles," Mongo said of Kilpatrick. "He had the most potential of anybody I ever worked for, and he blew it. What made this town great -- black political power -- has been diluted, sliced up and silenced. Detroit has become the minor leagues."

And so off he goes to K Street, where the drinks are taller, the stakes are higher and the pockets much deeper. Mongo said he will keep his clientele in Detroit but figures they will be better served by his presence in D.C., where Michigan's delegation has been all but neutered by the Obama administration.

"Whether you like it or not, I will be the face of Detroit in Washington," he said.

Top names, long list

Sensitive that some in the power set will view his move as a sign that his career is limping toward irrelevance, Mongo ripped off a list of clients he has represented and others he continues to represent: one governor, one Democratic gubernatorial candidate, five appellate court judges, seven circuit court judges, five district court judges, three mayors, three county prosecutors, two members of Congress, six City Council members and powerbroker Edward McNamara, the late Wayne County executive.

If any proof is needed that politics makes strange bedfellows, then consider Kilpatrick's obstruction of justice hearings nearly two years ago. It was something of a family reunion for Mongo. He had worked on a political campaign for not only Kilpatrick, but also for the presiding district judge, Ronald Giles, and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

"All were enemies and all were friends," said Mongo, paraphrasing his career by paraphrasing a biblical verse, Romans 5:10. "It was like having my nieces and nephews together."

Mongo ordered another.

His cell phone rang. It was a spy inside City Hall calling with gossip. "The feds ain't the only ones with snitches in City Hall," he cackled.

Mongo took a message, then showed off his contacts list. It was a veritable Who's Who in Detroit politics. So potent is the directory that after his car was stolen a few years ago, a man wandered into the police precinct to return Mongo's cell phone.

"The guy told the cops that he looked through the numbers and figured it was important," he said. "The phone was too hot for him."

Mongo ordered dessert on the rocks.

There is little doubt that many in the metropolitan region will be happy to see him go. A former Marine and newspaperman, Mongo cut his political teeth in the Coleman Young machine.

And like Young, Mongo speaks his mind, and he speaks loudly.

Mongo now takes credit for the infamous back-page "lynching" ad that ran in a special edition of the Michigan Chronicle in 2005 commemorating the life and death of Rosa Parks. The ad compared a photograph of black men hanging from a tree to the media's treatment of Kilpatrick, who was seeking re-election and was far down in the polls.

'My biggest win'

"It was my biggest win and among my finest work," he said. "Of course I take advantage of racial issues. I'm good at it. Isn't that what Lee Atwater did for Daddy Bush with the Willie Horton ad? Do they call him a race-baiter?"

Washington politics is a dirty, brass-knuckle free-for-all, and it is precisely this freedom, he said, that compels Mongo to Washington.

"Winning is the cardinal rule in politics," he said. "When you look at it like that, I'm a choirboy compared to some people in D.C."

charlie@detnews.com">charlie@detnews.com (313) 222-2071